Summer Essay: Saving Belle

Larry Sussman shares a story about getting his dog back, and finding a glass half full.

I was still in recovery mode. My wife had left me the year before. Staying home during the summer of 2001 wasn’t an option as it reminded me too much of the breakup. So with my beloved sheltie mix, Belle, I explored many nature trails along the Menomonee River Parkway in Wauwatosa, the Grant Park Beach in South Milwaukee, and next to Lake Michigan in Whitefish Bay and Shorewood.

One day in August, Belle and I were walking on a dirt path above the Menomonee River in Wauwatosa, near Hoyt Park. Here, the normally placid river is about 50 feet wide, three feet deep in the middle with a peaceful waterfall. Not that day. The night before, a thunderstorm had turned the Menomonee into a torrent.

Without thinking, I threw a ball that ricocheted off a tree and rolled down into the river. Belle bolted after it and disappeared through the trees. I could not see her. I raced to the river’s edge, yelled her name and felt helpless, knowing that I could not save her in that rush of water. I ran along the river, blaming my stupidity and praying for deliverance. Apparently, she jumped into the whitewater to fetch the ball and got swept away.

About 100 feet downriver, wedged among some logs lying near the river’s edge, was my Belle. I waded in and lifted her out, as the noisy water rushed by. Her thick brown fur was saturated, and she shook in my arms as I carried her.

I had lost my wife but got my sweet dog back. At that moment, I could start to see that my glass was half full.

‘Saving Belle’ is party of the essay collection, “True Stories,” which appears in the 2016 City Guide issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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